Tatem Levins highlights a La Salle roster full of young local talent

La Salle continues to move forward with young talent
You can hear the excitement in head coach David Miller's voice when he talks about the La Salle baseball program; he talks with a sense of excitement and confidence, with a swagger thrown in for good measure.

"We can make this one of the top baseball programs in the region, a destination program, that's what we are aiming for," Miller said.

The foundation in place appears strong. Miller and his staff have brought in another nationally recognized recruiting class (their second straight), and are coming off a 25-win season, their second-highest win total dating back to 1999. The club also returns an All-American in sophomore catcher Tatem Levins and a quality starting pitcher in junior southpaw Colin Scanlon.

Scanlon, a St. Joseph's Prep graduate, began last year in the bullpen before joining the rotation late in the season. He finished third on the staff with 51 2/3 innings pitched and went 4-4 with a 5.23 ERA. As for Levins, he earned Atlantic 10 Conference Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .321 with nine homers and 50 RBIs. He also had a great summer, hitting .319 with seven homers for the Winnipesaukee Muskrats of the NECBL.

"Last year, a lot of guys didn't know what Tatem Levins was all about," Miller said. "So he was getting pitches that he's probably not going to get this year. He has to know that walking into a game now against VCU or Saint Joseph's, they know how to pitch to you now; you have to understand that walks are good and that you now have a much bigger scouting report."

The Explorers opened last year with success in non-conference play, but dropped their first five Atlantic 10 contests and entered into a tailspin. The club lost six-straight in early May to Dayton and Fordham and never bounced back, finishing last in the conference with a 4-20 record. Miller believes youth and inexperience, two ingredients that will certainly exist again this year, are to blame for last year's rough finish.

"I just don't think they were ready for that grind," Miller said. "The weekend series down south and the quick turnaround to be back here for a Monday morning class. These guys are used to 25 or 30 games, it's different at the college level where you have 20 or 25 more, plus ideally the postseason. I think last year when we got to conference play our guys hit that wall."

The club graduated offensive threats Peyton Sorrels (.359/.439/.502), Kevin McGowan (.296/.380/.393), and Ben Faso (.288/.351/..473), plus reliever Connor Hinchliffe (2.27 ERA, 13 Sv), but there's plenty of new talent to be excited about.

"We've really got a good young core coming in," Miller said. "We have 12 freshmen that have come in and every one of them has the potential to make an impact for us this year."

Offensively, freshman outfielder Elijah Dickerson figures to be a vital piece to the Explorers lineup. The Rancocas Valley High product hit .550 with 17 RBIs over 20 games during his senior season and earned First Team All-South Jersey accolades.

"He was probably our most potent hitter in the fall," Miller said. "He'll be our opening day No. 2 hitter. The kid has power, speed, plus an outstanding arm."

Joining Dickerson atop the order figures to be another freshman in infielder David Smith, a three-sport athlete out of Perkiomen.

"He has a cannon of an arm and is the best athlete on the field," Miller said. "So we're putting two freshmen right at the top of the order on day one. I don't like to do that, but these guys are grinders. They work hard and both have the tools to be next level guys."

Joe Messina, the Philadelphia Catholic League Pitcher of the Year in 2019 out of Neumann-Goretti, figures to see some time in the rotation but could also turn into a potential closer. He's joined by former N-G teammate Gabe Rappa who also may see some time in the rotation and at the backend of the bullpen in tight contests.

"It's just one of those things, I get so excited about talking about the freshmen class," Miller said with a laugh. "This class is so much fun to watch and coach."

La Salle opens the season on Friday, February 14, with a three-game set at Furman and will host Hofstra at newly renovated Hank DeVincent Field on Saturday, February 22. The Atlantic 10 portion of the schedule will kick off on Friday, March 20 with a three-game series at Richmond.

"This team has next-level talent, it's now about getting them to understand that," Miller said. "We could have a really good team this year, but we also are very young, so if it's this year, next year, or the year after, when these guys all gel together it's going to be fantastic to watch."
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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